Dr. Ellie MacInnes, Head of Geothermal Science at CGG, tells us about the exciting prospects ahead in geothermal energy
In 2020 I took on a new role as Head of Geothermal Science at CGG. This personal career move was driven by the renewed global focus on the potential for geothermal energy to play a greater role in the Energy Transition.
When I joined ConocoPhillips in 2004, after completing a structural geology PhD at the University of New Brunswick in eastern Canada, I was fortunate to join the oil and gas industry at a time of relatively high oil prices and significant investment in new graduates. Since then I have weathered the ups and downs of the industry at Talisman Energy in Calgary, followed by Maersk Oil in Copenhagen, while building my expertise in Exploration and New Ventures in basins around the globe. My latest career move was in 2018 when I joined CGG in the UK. This was after a difficult period of market down cycle and I was excited to be able to stay in the energy industry. The recent acceleration of the Energy Transition is in stark contrast to the difficult circumstances faced by our oil and gas community.
As traditional oil and gas companies look for clean energy investment opportunities, there is a high level of interest from subsurface technical specialists who are keen to learn and indeed show how their knowledge and skills can be applied in this growth area. I have observed excitement and some trepidation within all experience levels of geoscientists – excited at the new opportunities arising and the global push to meet climate change targets, yet uncertainty around where we fit as geoscientists.
With the launch of the United Nations ‘Race to Zero’, a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors and universities for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery, and the upcoming 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow , November 2021, there is a sharp focus on the actions needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Geothermal makes a relatively minor contribution to global renewable energy, a sector currently dominated by wind and solar. However, in the next five years the installed geothermal electrical power generating capacity is forecast to expand from 16 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2020 to 24GW in 2025 as energy companies diversify into alternative markets (Rystad Energy 2020). Recent announcements from BP and Chevron Technology Ventures that they are investing in new geothermal technologies that include heating and cooling has highlighted the growing interest in geothermal from ‘Big Oil’.
While the subsurface geoscience skills required for geothermal exploration and development differ from those required for oil and gas, there are existing skills and technologies that are highly transferable. Moreover, as the shift for geothermal resources moves away from high enthalpy areas and towards sedimentary basins, the transfer of oil and gas industry techniques, skills and data will be beneficial to the geothermal industry by providing a fresh subsurface technical perspective and the adoption of new drilling and completion techniques.
Read the full version of Ellie’s article, originally published in GEOExPro Vol. 18, No. 3 – 2021, here.